Heat Pumps vs Air Conditioners
When it comes time to install or replace a new HVAC system in your home or business, you are often faced with the difficult decision of choosing between a heat pump or a traditional air conditioning system. While these systems generally work the same when it comes to cooling your home, there are some major differences when it comes to heating. This article will cover the basic differences between a new heat pump system and a central air conditioning unit installation, how they work and what you should consider before purchasing a new system, including pros and cons, price, energy efficiency, and climate, among others.
What is a heat pump?
Heat pumps work on the principle that it is usually easier to move something than to manufacture it. In this concept, they have been used for years to cool homes by simply transferring heat from the inside of the house to the outside, then reversing the process to heat the house.
Components of a heat pump
A typical air source heat pump consists of two parts - also known as a split system - with an indoor air handler and an outdoor unit. A heat pump system consists of a series of components:
1. Pass the refrigerant through the compressor of the system
2. Coils, condenser and evaporator coils for heating or cooling air
3. Reversing valve for changing refrigerant flow
4. Thermostatic expansion valve to regulate refrigerant flow
5. Seasonally adjustable accumulators
6. Connect the refrigerant lines to the internal and external components
7. Heating bars for extra heat on cold days
8. Ducts that circulate hot or cold air throughout the home
9. A refrigerant is a compound that easily changes from a liquid to a gas, absorbing heat from the environment and transferring it elsewhere - a process called heat exchange.
How does a heat pump heat?
When temperatures are cooler in the fall and winter, the heat pump has a magic reversing valve that switches the system from cooling to heating, drawing heat from the outside air into the home. As long as the outside air temperature is above 30 degrees, a heat pump can usually draw enough heat from the outside air to heat a house to 70 degrees.
But when the temperature drops below 30 degrees, the heat pump goes into auxiliary or supplemental heating mode because there is not enough heat in the outside air to draw in. When the thermostat calls for a significant increase in temperature, the system will switch to its supplemental heat source to heat the home faster and save energy/money.
What is central air conditioning?
Air conditioners work like heat pumps, extracting heat from the inside and moving it outside. The main difference is that the central air conditioner does a really good job - it cools your home. Central air conditioners differ from other types of air conditioners—such as ductless air conditioning units—that use a system of invisible ducts throughout the home to distribute cool air to rooms.
How does an air conditioner cool
We've created an in-depth air conditioning guide detailing how an air conditioning system works, but here are the basics. Like a heat pump, a central air conditioner is a split unit that contains:
1. Outdoor compressor and condenser units
2. Evaporator coils at home
3. A series of refrigeration lines connecting the internal and external units
4. Refrigerant circulating through indoor and outdoor units
5. Air intakes and fans that distribute air through ducts to rooms in the home
6. Thermostats that control the temperature in your home
7. Also, like heat pumps, air conditioning units rely on refrigerant to do the heavy lifting of taking heat from your home and releasing it outside. Technically speaking, an air conditioner does exactly what its name suggests - to condition or dehumidify the air. The humidity (or water vapor) in the air makes it difficult for our bodies to regulate temperature, and when the mercury rises, we feel overheated. Air conditioners absorb moisture from the air and keep our skin feeling cooler.
Advantages and disadvantages of central air conditioning
Central air conditioners are suitable for large dwellings or dwellings with existing plumbing systems. As the name suggests - central air conditioning centralizes everything - fans and cooling systems circulate air through your home through ducts, keeping the rooms in your home cool and comfortable.
Advantages of Air Conditioning
The benefit of central air conditioning is its specialization. Air conditioning is the best way to keep your home cool all the time. They generate a lot of cold air, which is distributed to the room through a ductwork. For those with larger homes, air conditioning is a quiet and effective way to cool your entire home. Central air conditioning systems also filter the air, improving indoor air quality and reducing allergens.
Disadvantages of Air Conditioning
The biggest disadvantage of air conditioners is that they cannot generate heat. Heat is non-negotiable for those with an area below 60 degrees in winter. The air conditioner must be paired with the furnace for a complete heating and cooling system. Since you'll need a stove and an air conditioner unit, you'll need space for both pieces of equipment. It also means that air conditioning systems can be expensive.
Which system is right for you?
Heat pumps and air conditioners are both good options, but depending on your situation, may be better for you. Here are some things to consider when choosing a system to heat and cool your home.
Purchase and installation costs
While the indoor unit cost of a heat pump system is lower, the upfront cost of an outdoor unit is higher compared to an air conditioner. When considering cost, it's important to understand the total cost of installing a system that can properly heat and cool your home. Leomon can help determine all the costs involved.
Energy Efficiency/Operating Costs
In moderately cold outdoor temperatures, the heat pump system uses only electricity to provide energy efficient heating. Under these conditions, they may be less expensive to operate than systems using more expensive heating fuel sources such as natural gas, oil or propane. As temperatures drop below freezing, heat pumps require more energy to maintain indoor comfort, reducing efficiency and increasing electricity bills. You can solve this problem by pairing a heat pump with a furnace, creating a hybrid heat system. However, due to the higher initial cost of a heat pump unit, a hybrid system can be more expensive than the more common pairing of an air conditioner and furnace.
In cooling mode, both the heat pump and air conditioner are models with a high SEER rating, providing energy-efficient cooling during warm summer months. SEER ratings are like miles per gallon for a car. They give you a standard measure of efficiency so you can compare different models. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the unit. In heating mode, the heat pump efficiency is expressed in HSPF. The higher the HSPF, the higher the efficiency. In many ways, energy efficiency and operating costs depend on location. In areas with moderate temperatures, heat pumps are a better choice for efficient heating than in areas with extremely cold winters. If you want a more efficient model, be sure to choose an ENERGY STAR ® certified model.
An important factor to consider is the lifetime of the system. While there are many variables that can greatly affect the life expectancy of an HVAC system, AC units typically last longer than heat pumps. The reason is that a heat pump heats and cools the house, so it is used all year round. When a separate heat source is used to heat the home, the air conditioner takes a break during the cooler months. Keep in mind that some of the potential disadvantages of a heat pump's shorter life expectancy may be outweighed by its ability to provide efficient, money-saving heating in milder winter weather. Of course, annual adjustments from Leomon experts can extend the life of your heat pump or air conditioning system and help it run at peak energy efficiency.
Ask an expert
Whether you're replacing an existing HVAC system for your home or buying for the first time, there are a few important differences to consider when choosing between a heat pump and an air conditioner. In addition to choosing the best system for your situation, you also need to determine the size of the unit and its heating/cooling capabilities. A proper assessment of your home's heating and cooling needs by a trained HVAC professional is the best way to determine the ideal option for you. Leomon's experts can help assess your situation and help you decide between your heat pump and air conditioning system.